College can be seriously expensive these days – and I’m not just talking about tuition, room, and board – it would be nice to apply to college for free! The cost just to apply to colleges can really add up quickly. This is especially if you have a lot of schools on your list, or if you take a lot of AP exams and want to report your scores to colleges.
All told, it can cost $600 or more to apply to 10 colleges! I’m sure I don’t have to say any more to convince you that it can cost you a lot to apply to colleges.
Let’s take a look at why college applications can get so expensive. We’ll also get into some of the ways you can apply to college for free, or at least spend less money on your applications.
How Much Do College Applications Cost?
Many colleges charge $50 for an application fee. Some may charge less, and some are even free (more on this later!) However, some college application fees are approaching $100.
In addition to application fees, you also need to take into account the fees for test registration and score reporting for the ACT, SAT, and AP exams. In addition, you need to consider the cost of postage if you are mailing in paper applications.
Needless to say, all of these costs really start to add up! It would not be unreasonable to expect a total cost of $600 or more to apply to colleges, take your tests, and send your scores! This cost will only increase if you take tests repeatedly or apply to a larger number of schools.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the potential costs of applying to colleges:
- Application fees: $450 or more (This assumes that you apply to 9 colleges and pay an application fee of $50 or more for each school).
- Test score reporting fees: $110 to $730.
ACT: It costs $52 to take the test ($68 with the essay portion). The first 4 score reports are free, but every additional report costs $13. If you take the ACT twice and report your best score to 9 schools, then you will spend $169. More pricing information is available on the ACT site here.
SAT: It costs $49.50 to take the test ($64.50 with the essay portion). The first 4 score reports are free, but every additional report costs $12. If you take the SAT twice and report your best score to 9 schools, then you will spend $159. More pricing information is available on the SAT site here.
AP: It costs $94 to take each AP exam. The first score report is free, but every additional report costs $15. If you take 3 AP exams and report to 9 schools, then you will spend $402. More information is available on the AP site here.
Postage: $10 or more for sending in your applications by mail.
It should be obvious by now that applying to college is expensive – but why?
Why Are College Application Fees So Expensive?
Application fees are one way that colleges can make sure that you are really serious about attending the school. Most students will not spend $100 or more to apply and report test scores to a college that they are not really interested in attending.
Application fees ensure that only interested students apply to a college. This helps to cut down on the amount of work that admissions staff needs to do during their busy season. That means that they can examine each application more carefully.
One way to reduce your college application costs is to carefully consider which colleges you will apply to. If you apply to 20 or 30 schools, the fees will really add up quickly. You should be very safe applying to 9 colleges – read the article here to understand why.
Of course, there is a way to drastically reduce the cost of applying to college – let’s get into that now.
How to Apply to College for Free
If you want to apply to college for free, you may be in luck, since there are ways to do it! One of the best ways is to find schools that do not charge an application fee, so let’s start there.
What Colleges Have No Application Fee?
Some colleges have no application fee at all, such as Wellesley College. For each college you are interested in applying to, go to their website and use the search function to look for “application fee”. If you cannot find this information online, you can call the admissions office and ask.
Even if a college normally charges an application fee, you may still be able to apply for free. Sometimes a college will waive the application fee in the following circumstances:
- You apply using the common application
- You apply through the college’s online platform (this also saves you on postage!)
- You make an on-campus visit and show a genuine interest in the college
- You are a legacy student (that is, your parents or grandparents attended the college)
- You are an international student
- You can demonstrate financial hardship
How Do You Get a Fee Waiver for College Applications?
One way to get a fee waiver for a college application is to just ask the school. They may be able to work with you to eliminate the application fee, especially if you are a strong applicant. However, they may ask you to demonstrate financial need with income or tax records from your parents.
Another way to get a fee waiver for college applications is to get an ACT or SAT fee waiver (more on this later). If you are eligible for an ACT or SAT fee waiver, then you may be eligible to receive college application fee waivers as well.
Can You Take the ACT or SAT for Free?
Yes, you may be able to take the ACT or SAT for free. However, there are some requirements, which can change from year to year.
- To qualify for an ACT or SAT fee waiver, you need to:
- Be enrolled in high school in 11th or 12th grade
- Test in the U.S., a U.S. territory, or Puerto Rico
- Demonstrate economic need (such as being enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch at school)
The ACT fee waiver will cover the following:
- The registration fee and late fee for the ACT or ACT with writing (essay)
- A score report to your high school and 6 colleges (indicated at the time of testing)
- Up to 20 additional score reports (request after testing)
You can only use two ACT fee waivers, meaning that you can take the test for free twice. For more information, you can read up on ACT fee waivers here.
The SAT fee waiver will cover the following:
- The registration fee for the SAT or SAT with writing (essay)
- Unlimited score reports to colleges and universities
- 6 free SAT subject tests
You can only use two SAT fee waivers, meaning that you can take the test for free twice. For more information, you can read up on SAT fee waivers here.
How Do I Get a Fee Waiver for the ACT or SAT?
To get an ACT or SAT fee waiver, you will need to go through your high school counselor. The fee waivers are not sent directly to students.
Authorized agencies and CBOs (community based organizations) may also give out fee waivers. An educator can request additional SAT fee waivers by calling 888-SAT-HELP.
How Much Does the Common Application Cost?
There is no fee to register with the common application and fill out your forms. However, each college decides on its own application fee (some are free if you use the common application).
As outlined above, some colleges have no application fee, while others will waive the fee in certain circumstances.
Now you know how to apply to college for free, or at the very least, reduce your cost of applying. You also have a good idea of how to save on test reporting fees (show up to your ACT or SAT with college codes ready so that you can send scores for free!)
With some careful planning, you can save quite a bit on the college application process. Don’t wait until the last minute – start early so that you can plan ahead!
The same advice goes for test prep as well – if you start early, you are more likely to get the positive results you want! You can begin with a free online practice SAT or ACT test! If you need some guidance with the test prep process, the best thing to do is schedule a free consultation call with one of Testive’s Student Success Advisors!